In the aftermath of the fire that destroyed their studio, Grey Harbour Tattoo is back and better than ever
Located in Hamilton’s art district on James Street North, Grey Harbour Tattoo is a semi-private tattoo studio that has been offering client-centred service to customers since April 2015. The studio was opened by tattoo artists and owners Tom Penny and Ron Vino and formerly, Sherlane White.
Penny was born and raised in Hamilton. After several years working in the automobile industry, he changed direction to study visual arts at Sheridan College, where he learned to tattoo at a local studio. After returning to Hamilton, Penny approached fellow tattoo artist and current business partner, Vino, with the idea of opening up his very own studio.
Penny himself tattoos primarily nature-based and traditional tattoos, drawing on flora and fauna as his subject matter. Meanwhile, Vino’s tattoos are very saturated and characterized by bold lines and bright colours.
“What I strive for is just to constantly progress. It’s a very competitive industry, and there’s people constantly coming up. Even just in our shop, we have a few new artists and working alongside them pushes us to constantly get better,” said Penny.
On April 21, 2020, about one month after the first business closures due to COVID-19, Grey Harbour Tattoo was caught in an arson attack on James Street North that destroyed it as well as La Bichette boutique and Born & Raised restaurant.
“[The fire] was something obviously that we didn’t expect. How do you explain something that was just so shocking? I came in [so distraught] that it was almost hard to believe that we went through it,” said Penny.
Penny was first alerted to the fire by Vino, who rushed to the scene when the building owner initially realized that Born & Raised had caught fire.
“I just remember we were all sitting at home doing our own things, and I got a message from Rob saying, “[the] building’s on fire.” Thankfully, it didn’t get out of hand and someone was present there to put the fire out. At first I just couldn’t believe it—within 10 minutes [of receiving a phone call] I was there, seeing what I didn’t ever expect to see. Obviously I’ve seen fires in my time, but to see your own space just demolished was pretty shocking,” said Penny.
In the aftermath of the fire, they set up a GoFundMe campaign with the help of fellow local tattoo artist Brock Ryan, which hit its $25,000 fundraising goal in order to cover expenses outside of the studio’s insurance coverage. Through collaboration with local artists to raise awareness, the studio received immense support from the local community.
“Word spreads. Even overseas I was getting messages from people and so just seeing that kept us positive. Knowing that we were going to be okay, we were going to get through it and we had support,” said Penny.
In a stroke of good luck, the owners of a space across the street reached out to Penny, so the studio transitioned from a second and third storey location to a spot opening straight onto James Street North. They are now located at 172 James Street North.
“No one was hurt and the building was vacant because of COVID, so there were so many things to be thankful for rather than [focusing] on the negative,” said Penny.
Although they are currently closed due to COVID-19 lockdown procedures, Grey Harbour was open from August to December 2020. They have changed the way they operate due to COVID-19. Now clients contact the artist they’d like to tattoo them directly in order to book an online consultation.
From there, the artist will discuss design ideas, placement and determine if tracings or pictures are necessary. Depending on the artist, wait times range anywhere from a couple of weeks to months due to limited client capacity and enhanced sanitation procedures.
Grey Harbour Tattoo takes a special pride in tailoring to the interests of each individual that comes to their studio, with a very client-centered approach to tattooing.
“The way we run the studio is you choose the artists you want to work with, you look at the work, you check out their social media page. If someone came to me with an idea that I felt another artist at another studio is better for . . . I’ll refer them to another artist. We just want our clients to get the best possible tattoo,” said Penny.
After a difficult year, Grey Harbour Tattoo is happy to be back from the face of hardship and delivering the best possible service to their clients once again. Their experience is a testament to the resounding support of the local Hamilton community.